Monday was one of the tensest days in recent Israeli history. Israelis woke up to the news that Iranian bases in Syria had been bombed overnight. While no one took responsibility for the attack, and the Syrians blamed both the British and the Americans for the strike, it became clear it was most likely Israel that carried out the attack. Reportedly, whoever attacked the Iranian base destroyed 200 missiles. If it was an Israeli operation, it constituted the largest recently implemented. Although Russian warnings against further Israeli actions in Syria did not deter the attack, Russia did not react afterward, in any way.
By noon, the word was out that there was going to be an emergency security cabinet meeting. Cabinet members were given one-hour notice. At first, everyone thought the meeting had been convened about the situation in Syria. However, soon the word was out that the session was called concerning the Iran nuclear agreement, known as JCPOA. The country became a little more nervous when someone faked a tweet from Channel 10 News alleging the Israeli government had intelligence the Iranians were going to start a war within the next 48 hours.
Finally, an announcement came that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was going to give a dramatic address to the nation about Iran at 8 PM. What Netanyahu was going to say was a closely guarded secret — the public was only told that what the Prime Minister would reveal would be dramatic, a game changer. People on the streets of Tel Aviv were truly concerned that a war was about to break out.
Strangely, during the day I had interviewed the President of Pluristem Therapeutics, a company that had just been granted FDA approval for use of their newly developed treatment for acute radiation exposure — the type of medicine one would receive in the event of a nuclear attack. Given that I live ‘a stone's throw’ from Israel’s Military Headquarters, I joked with the CEO and asked whether I could get a dose of his injection if needed.
As the eight o’clock speech approached, every Israeli network had cut to special news broadcasts, where everyone speculated on what the Prime Minister would say. Word had already gone out to calm a nervous public that Netanyahu was not going to declare war. The pundits wondered out loud whether Netanyahu would produce a smoking gun to prove Iran has violated the nuclear agreement … Is there a secret reactor? Probably not; Does Iran possess security centrifuges it is not supposed to have? That is a possibility; or is this evening’s pressing proclamation all a big public relations stunt, in an attempt to push President Trump over the finishing line with his decision to withdraw from of the Iranian accord?
Netanyahu began his presentation at 8:10 PM. After speaking for just two minutes in Hebrew, the Prime Minister made his remaining remarks in English. He announced he was about to disclose one the greatest intelligence success in Israel’s history. And sure enough, Netanyahu produced a tremendous trove of documents stolen from a warehouse in Teheran, which included a complete historic description of the Iranian nuclear program, from 1999-2003. The documents prove — without a shadow of a doubt — that the Iranians were and are lying when they say they have never wanted to develop nuclear weapons. They clearly had a nuclear weapons programs. Everyone was then waiting for next part — i.e. the dramatic proof that the Iranians are currently violating JCPOA— but no such evidence was produced.
So, what did Netanyahu bring the Israeli public and the rest of the world in his “dramatic” and excellently delivered presentation? Netanyahu conveyed nothing new. The world has been aware the Iranians wanted nuclear weapons and everyone knew they had lied about their previous activities. The question remains — What is happening in Iran now? IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisencot stated in an interview during Passover that “for right now, the agreement, with all its flaws, is working and is putting-off Iran’s realization of its nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years.” That is also essentially what Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in a recent interview. Nevertheless, Netanyahu ended his English remarks by asserting his certainty that President Donald J. Trump — his real audience — would “do the right thing and end the agreement”. After speaking in English for 15 minutes Netanyahu, spent less than two minutes speaking to the Israeli public in Hebrew.
Netanyahu’s speech fell on receptive ears. Trump relayed he had listened to part of the presentation and it confirmed that what he was doing was 100% right vis-a-vis Iran. US Secretary of State Michael “Mike” Pompeo had made a whirlwind stop in Tel Aviv on Sunday. Following his meeting with Netanyahu regarding the Iran deal, Pompeo said: “This deal is very flawed. He’s [President Trump] directed the administration to try and fix it and if we can’t fix it, he’s going to withdraw from the deal. It’s pretty straightforward…”
The JCPOA negotiated under President Barack Obama forced the Iranians to halt their nuclear program. That agreement, however, has three main weaknesses. First, the Iranians received much of what they wanted up front (i.e., the release of nearly $100 billion in Iranian assets and the lifting of other sanctions). Second, some the stronger safeguards in the accord sunset after 10 years. Third, the understanding does nothing to limit other Iranian actions, such as the development of ballistic missiles.
To people who understand the Iranian agreement, the first and second weaknesses are by far the strongest reasons for the United States not to walk away. Before the agreement was signed, The main leverage the United States and its partners had over Iran was control over all of their money that was being withheld, as well as the fact the rest of the world was united in opposition to the Iranian program. The Iranians have their money now and the United States and Israel stand nearly alone in the opinion that JCPOA should be scrapped at this time.
By all accounts, the Iranians have been keeping their side of JCPOA, despite Netanyahu’s insinuations that they have not. So to many, it seems ludicrous for the US to withdraw from the agreement and give the Iranians a reason to walk away from their commitments. In our current world, where Iran and Russia are allies, placing any sort of pressure on the Iranians is going to be almost impossible. The flaw with aspects of the accord sunsetting at the 10-year mark is very real. However, there is no logic in tearing up a decade-long agreement that is being honored — during year 3.
Some believe American threats to withdraw from the agreement are evidence of the brilliant negotiating skills of President Trump, maneuvering to force the Europeans to agree to pressure Iran to further limit their missile program, or to curb their other aggressive activities. This approach may indeed bear fruit. It is similar to the tactic of threatening to pull to of NAFTA in order to renegotiate the agreement. Threatening to withdraw from the Iran deal could be a well-calculated move to improve the terms. However, the problem with that strategy is — what if it does not work? What then? What is “Plan B”?
Israel and Iran are on a path toward a collision in Syria. Israel has made it clear it will not allow the Iranians to set up permanent bases in Syria and has backed up those threats with actions. In the midst of this dispute, is it in Israel or America’s interest to end the Iranian nuclear agreement? It is hard to see how. Netanyahu and Trump, like most people, like to prove that they were right. Both were critics of the agreement everyone agrees has flaws. Nevertheless, no one has explained how putting an end to that agreement now makes sense. To date, nobody has outlined what happens the day after the US chooses to withdraw. Hopefully, someone is devising a plan, since it is becoming clear that Trump will most likely announce the US will be withdrawing from JCPOA later this month. What happens the day after what is on the minds of most Israelis.
Should America Pull Out of the Middle East?
Despite an enormous investment of troops and treasure, U.S. security policy in the Middle East is best known for its many failures since 9/11. The war in Afghanistan has failed to reach its political objectives, which have either been unspecified or unrealistic for most of the war. The 2003 invasion of Iraq ranks among the worst foreign policy mistakes in U.S. history. The NATO intervention in the Libyan civil war produced a failed state that serves as a hub for human trafficking and a haven for terrorists. Israelis and Palestinians are further from peace than they have been in several decades. And the mayhem in Syria continues unabated.
If U.S. interventions have not only failed to produce lasting positive change but arguably made the regional situation worse, any reasonable observer might ask the obvious question: Why should the United States not simply pull out of the region and leave its inhabitants to their own devices? In short, a U.S. presence helps stabilize the Persian Gulf, so a complete withdrawal is unwise.
Any discussion of whether and where the United States should commit military resources must begin with an assessment of what its interests are and how those interests are best served. U.S. engagement in the Middle East during the Cold War had three goals: to secure the flow of oil, prevent the spread of Communism in the Persian Gulf, and ensure the survival of Israel.
Yet today North America is nearly self-sufficient in oil and gas production, Russia is no longer a peer competitor, and Israel not only has peace treaties with the two neighbors that account for most of its land border but also a nuclear deterrent to ward off others. U.S. involvement after 2001 aimed to put an end to the threat of terrorism, but may well have produced more willing recruits for extremist organizations.
To some extent, the U.S. military is already pulling out of the region as the number of ground forces in the Middle East fell sharply in recent years. U.S. military forces left Iraq completely in 2011, although a few thousand special forces returned in 2014 to fight Islamic State. (About 2,000 special forces personnel are also stationed in northeast Syria for the same purpose.) After the 2016 withdrawal of major combat units, the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is down to a residual force of about 8,400 soldiers.
While the same broken record of neoconservative and liberal interventionist voices keep calling for more military resources in the region, both the Obama and Trump administrations have generally resisted sending large ground forces back into the region since President Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. There is very limited appetite among the American electorate for fighting new land wars in the Middle East.
Should the United States consequently pull out its remaining military resources from the Middle East? There is certainly an argument for ending the war on terror. After all, the Islamic State no longer controls large swathes of territory. Drone strikes may reduce the number of active terrorists, but may also be driving recruitment—especially in countries where the targets of assassinations are local citizens (unlike the Arab members of Al-Qaeda who operated out of Afghanistan). It is far from clear that the militarized approach to counterterrorism—which now stretches as far afield as Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan—is truly reducing long-term threats to U.S. interests.
The main danger of a complete pullout from the region lies elsewhere—an American exit would risk destabilizing the Persian Gulf. The United States has maintained a network of air and naval bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman that dates back several decades, and it has at least two important interests in regional stability. First, the region still represents a substantial share of worldwide oil and gas production. As long as hydrocarbons trade on a global market, production shocks in one area of the world will affect worldwide prices even if the North American continent is technically self-sufficient. Second, a substantial share of world trade passes through regional shipping lanes, stopping at ports in Dubai and elsewhere, en route from Asia to Europe.
The U.S. presence is currently the best security guarantee available to the Arab Gulf states. In its absence, all of these countries would face an intense security threat from Iran, a potential regional hegemon with a substantially larger population, economy, and military than its neighbors.
Saudi Arabia has only about a fourth of the population of Iran, and the other Gulf Arab states have tiny citizenries. None have a large economy beyond oil. Aside from its own military, Iran also commands proxy forces through its connections to the Syrian regime and armed groups in Iraq and Lebanon. With the systematic destruction of the Iraqi state after the 2003 U.S. invasion, this traditional counterweight to Iranian power in the region disappeared.
An abrupt U.S. withdrawal would most likely spur a regional arms race of conventional forces and intensify the temptation to develop a nuclear deterrent. A toxic cocktail of mutual insecurity, escalating arms races, and perceptions of a shifting regional power balance could spark military confrontations of various kinds.
The U.S. presence reduces the risk of a military confrontation by preserving regional stability. A U.S. military presence is also the best insurance policy for containing the effects of a regional military confrontation if it occurred. U.S. interventions managed to keep oil markets relatively stable throughout the 8 years of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, partly by protecting and even reflagging oil tankers servicing Gulf ports.
Military bases are easy to dismantle but more difficult to build up. The U.S. military benefits from having access to an extensive network of bases that it established over several decades. If the network is dismantled, it could be difficult to reconstruct as the regional balance of power shifts. For instance, if Gulf states seek closer ties with Russia or China after the United States pulls out, it might be impossible to reestablish U.S. military bases for diplomatic reasons.
In sum, the best U.S. policy is to reduce its military presence in the Middle East to a core of air and naval forces stationed in the current network of bases in the Persian Gulf and avoid committing ground forces to the region. These forces prevent any other state from gaining air or naval supremacy in the region, and a network of established bases allows the United States to quickly increase troop levels in the future if the regional balance of power changes or there is some unexpected political crisis. Force doctrine and posture should be defensive and aimed at preserving regional stability.
The United States should also pursue strong political and diplomatic ties with all countries in the region—including Iran—as part of an overall strategy of deescalating security concerns and political tensions. Military force should be an insurance policy, not a hammer in search of proverbial nails.
Trump Bashes Iran Nuclear Deal, But Hasn't Pulled Out Of It Yet
In a speech which sounded like it was written Senator Tom Cotton, Trump denounced the Iran nuclear deal, did not certify it, said Iran have not lived up to the agreement, imposed new sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but did not pull America out of the deal.
Trump attacked President Obama's Iran deal during his entire campaign and this speech gives him a way to thump his chest like the authoritative despot he is.
Reporters tell us that our foreign allies tried to convince him not to pull out from the agreement since Trump acts like this deal is only between the U.S. and Iran.
I imagine the Kimberly Guilfoyle holds more sway over the president than Theresa May.
The Hill reports, "The decision is a compromise forged out of heated internal discussions about what to do with the nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers."
Trump said, "Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal, so today, in recognition of the increasing menace posed by Iran, and after extensive consultations with our allies, I am announcing a new strategy to address the full range of Iran's destructive actions. "
Trump said, “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,.”
As I understand it, even if Congress comes up with fixes to the plan and they miraculously pass something, that doesn't mean our allies would be willing to renegotiate it and Iran certainly wouldn't agree to it.
And let's face it, the only reason Trump is doing this is because he's lazy.
Trump has certified Iranian compliance twice before, but was reportedly livid over the prospect of doing so again.
It was Congress that passed a measure forcing any administration to certify Iran was in compliance and now Trump is loath to do so. He hates certifying it so much that he "threw a fit" when faced with the prospect of having to do it for a third time since taking office.
Today's stunt was a way to pacify the man-baby in the White House while letting him play to his base.
Trump Expected to Pull U.S. Out of Unconstitutional Paris Climate Agreement
Considering that President Donald Trump has been quite vocal in his intentions to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate agreement (which had been accepted as binding on the United States by then-President Barack Obama), speculation has it that he will now do so. According to the terms of the 2016 agreement — reached November 4 of that year — a nation could not pull out during the first three years.
Those three years are now up, and under the terms of the agreement, Trump can pull the United States out following a one year’s notice. Trump can start the process of withdrawal with a letter to the United Nations. Were Trump to invoke that part of the deal and withdraw today, the United States would exit the deal the day after the 2020 presidential election.
Not surprisingly, officials associated with the Obama administration are expressing opposition to any move by Trump to pull out of the deal.
For example, Andrew Light, a State Department climate negotiator, has said that were Trump to lose the 2020 election, the new president could simply get back in the deal in only 30 days. Light is now with the World Resources Institute.
Opposition to Trump leaving the Paris climate agreement also comes from academia. Jake Jacoby, an economist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was a co-founder of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, predicted that were the United States to leave the deal, it would discredit U.S. leadership, and lead to “shame.”
Another academic, Gregg Marland of Appalachian State University, said, “We’re the second biggest player. What happens to the game if we take our ball and go home?”
When asked what the U.S. government intends to do on the Paris deal, James Dewey, a spokesman with the State Department, said in an e-mail on Friday, “The U.S. position with respect to the Paris Agreement has not changed. The United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.”
What exactly is involved in the Paris agreement? It calls for those nations signing the agreement to develop increasingly ambitious anti-CO2 actions every five years, beginning in November 2020. Advocates of the deal argue that climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, and that it has already caused weather extremes, melted ice across the world, and is expected to get worse. Among the problems these climate alarmists predict are a jump in world temperatures by several degrees, leading to a rise in sea levels of up to three feet.
Of course, all of these dire predictions are assertions that lack scientific proof.
But beyond the issue of alleged industrially-caused global climate change, the Paris deal raises certain constitutional questions that are simply not being asked by the mainstream media, most members of Congress, law-school professors, or even the Trump administration itself.
After all, presidents — including both Obama and Trump — took oaths to uphold the Constitution of the United States. So did every member of Congress. The Constitution is quite explicit in giving the president of the United States the authority to make treaties with other nations, but it is just as explicit in requiring that any such treaty agreed to by the president be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate before it is considered law in the United States.
Nothing of the sort was done with the Paris agreement. President Barack Obama simply agreed to its terms. Without the ratification by two-thirds of the Senate, then, it is not legally binding upon the United States. In other words, President Trump could withdraw from the agreement today, without any letter or even a tweet to the United Nations.
In fact, Trump could have withdrawn from the deal the day he took office in January 2017, because, since Obama had not gotten any ratification from the Senate on the deal, it was not a law in the United States, and neither he nor the U.S. government was bound by it.
With all the talk of impeachment over matters that are trivial in comparison, why is there so little concern about a president — Obama — entering into an agreement, on his own, without following the Constitution? For that matter, why has Trump either not already pulled out, or submitted the agreement to the Senate for ratification?
Has Congress, which has essentially surrendered its power to declare war to the president, now surrendered its role in the making of foreign policy to the president as well? Each member of Congress took an oath to the Constitution, which requires that the Senate agree to any presidential agreement with other nations if it is to be considered law.
Whether one agrees with the Iran Nuclear Deal, it also should have been submitted to the Senate for ratification.
Members of Congress have meekly given up their constitutional powers to the executive branch, an action that they had no legal right to take.
And the trade deals that the United States has entered into over the years clearly are what the framers of the Constitution would have considered treaties. If President Trump takes his oath to the Constitution seriously, then his USMCA should not be subject to a simple majority vote of each house of Congress, but should be sent to the Senate, where it would require a two-thirds vote to have any legal standing at all.
The Mexican government considers the USMCA a treaty. Why shouldn’t the United States?
Trump Expected To Criticize Iran But Not Pull Out Of Nuclear Deal
U .S. President Donald Trump is expected to call for measures cracking down on what he sees as Iran’s aggression in the Middle East in a widely anticipated speech on October 13, but stop short of pulling the United States out of its nuclear deal with Tehran, U.S. officials told media on October 12.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Trump will say the 2015 deal is not in the United States’ national security interests, and Tehran violates the “spirit” of the deal by continuing to develop ballistic missiles and foment regional conflicts.
But he will not declare that Iran is technically in violation of its obligations to curb nuclear activities under the accord in exchange for sanctions relief, and he will not call for the reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions, the officials said.
Rather, they said Trump will urge Congress to pass legislation setting new, tougher requirements that Tehran must meet to continue to benefit from sanctions relief.
Trump will also ask Congress to amend or replace legislation that requires him every 90 days to certify that Iran is in compliance with the accord, a requirement officials say Trump has long opposed, the officials said.
The long-awaited White House announcement on U.S. policy toward Iran will be made at 12:45 p.m. Washington time (6:45 p.m. Prague time).
The nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia — put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in return for the easing of economic sanctions.
Trump has repeatedly denounced the nuclear deal, which was negotiated and signed under President Barack Obama’s administration, and told the UN General Assembly last month that it is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
Under U.S. law, the administration is required every 90 days to recertify that Iran is in compliance with the deal and that it remains in the U.S. national interest. The Trump administration has twice in the past certified that Iran is complying.
Media reports say the president this time under an October 15 deadline will announce that he is decertifying Iran while not formally pulling the United States out of the deal.
That move would give the Republican-controlled Congress 60 days to decide whether to reinstate sanctions on Tehran that were suspended under the agreement, a development that would amount to withdrawing from the deal.
While Congress could vote to reimpose sanctions, sentiment among lawmakers has been building recently in favor of keeping the deal in place, even among Republicans and Democrats who originally opposed it when Congress voted on it in 2015, media have reported.
Trump and other administration officials have repeatedly said that while Iran may be complying with actual terms of the pact, it has not acted in the “spirit” of the accord, including by continuing to test-launch ballistic missiles and rockets capable of carrying nuclear warheads and by meddling in the affairs of its Middle East neighbors.
Tehran says its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes, including power generation.
Most Democrats and some Republicans, including members of Trump’s national security team, have expressed concerns about pulling out of the accord, saying it could hurt U.S. credibility on the world stage.
The U.S. officials said that, along with discussing the nuclear accord, Trump in his speech will also point out many complaints regarding Iran’s nonnuclear activities.
Among those will be the country’s ballistic-missile program and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war, along with Lebanon’s Hizballah movement and other groups allegedly destabilizing the region.
The 3 Biggest Consequences of Trump Pulling Out of the Iran Deal
President Trump formalized his intentions to withdraw from the Iran Deal on Tuesday.
President Trump has been criticized for lacking even a shred of cohesion in his decision making, but there has been one unifying theme over his first 15 months in office: torching the legacy of Barack Obama. The latest of his predecessor’s accomplishments set for incineration is the Iran deal, which Trump announced plans to abandon today. The withdrawal comes after months of campaigning from experts, administration officials and the international community to preserve the deal, which Trump has been decrying as “one of the worst” ever since the 2016 campaign. The president wasn’t swayed, remaining convinced he can renegotiate a better arrangement despite Iran’s refusal to do so.
While announcing the United States’ removal from the “decaying and rotten” agreement Tuesday afternoon, Trump said it’s “fine” that Iran is refusing to negotiate a new deal, and that he will be ready to talk when the nation does decide to discuss new terms. In the meantime, Trump says he will work to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and that if the regime resumes its development of a weapons program, “it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before.”
What's Lurking Inside Trump's War Cabinet?
Singer Paulette McWilliams on Her Years With Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, and Steely Dan
20 Best Country Songs to Play While Getting High
He continued: Today&rsquos action sends a critical message … the U.S. no longer sends empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them.”
Negotiated in July 2015, the deal, officially dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, stipulated that Iran rid itself of nuclear fuel if the United States waived sanctions that had been crippling the nation’s economy. As part of the deal, a UN nuclear agency would monitor Iran&rsquos fidelity to the agreement and, thus far, the agency has determined that Iran has complied. After 10 years, restrictions on research and development would lighten, and after 15 years, Iran would be able to produce nuclear fuel, but not in service of a weapons program. Along with the lack of a provision preventing Iran from testing ballistic missiles, this “sunset clause” has been pointed to by Trump as one of the principle reasons the deal is a “disaster.”
Most supporters of the deal have acknowledged its flaws, but have advocated working to amend the terms rather that starting from scratch. Trump’s insistence on blowing the deal up may prove problematic, though, as Iran has stated that it is not willing to start negotiating an entirely new deal. This leaves the United States with no agreement, and leaves the rest of the world &ndash the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China all signed onto the deal, as well &ndash fearing the worst. “We would open the Pandora&rsquos box,” French President Emmanuel Macron recently told German paper Der Spiegel of the impact of the U.S. pulling out of the deal. “There could be war.”
Here are three immediate takeaways from Trump’s decision today.
1. Iran is now free to build a nuclear bomb
Since the deal took effect in October 2015, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency has kept close tabs on the degree to which Iran has upheld its promise to suspend its nuclear weapons program. The nation’s former uranium enrichment plants are monitored constantly, dust samples are collected that are then analyzed for traces of nuclear activity and tips are investigated as to sites of suspicious activity within Iran. This element of oversight was a lynchpin of the agreement, as it has ensured there is virtually no way for Iran to even begin developing a nuclear weapon. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has called the verification process “robust.”
The IAEA offers an unprecedented degree of transparency into the Iran’s nuclear capabilities, an invaluable safeguard considering Iran’s history as an untrustworthy adversary. With this safeguard removed, Iran would be free to renew its nuclear weapons program, and the United States would have no way of monitoring whether they are developing weapons. As some have pointed out, this could pave the way for an invasion.
The Iran deal provides substantially more provision for verification of denuclearization & ongoing monitoring of such than will exist in this new post-Iran-deal reality. Watch arguments for war in the coming months take the shape of “we can’t be sure Iran isn’t building a bomb.”
&mdash Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) May 8, 2018
Part of what has emboldened Trump to renege is the departures of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster &ndash who both encouraged the president to uphold the deal &ndash with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, respectively, who have both been critical of it. Bolton was involved in an eerily similar situation 15 years ago before the United States invaded Iraq.
15 years ago, Bolton + Netanyahu justified their demand for a confrontation with Iraq by claiming the weapons inspectors there were being duped. Now they’re peddling the same story about the inspections in Iran. Why can’t America learn from its mistakes?https://t.co/JraoV4kb4c pic.twitter.com/gNHHzywuB5
&mdash Peter Beinart (@PeterBeinart) May 8, 2018
Iran&rsquos capability to build a bomb would also incentivize other Middle Eastern nations to pursue nuclear weapons programs. “What has been gained from the nuclear deal? Imagine all the mutually contaminating civil wars and internecine conflicts that rage across the Middle East today. Then turn the dial and add the possibility of a regional nuclear arms race triggered by Iran dashing for a bomb,” wrote British foreign secretary Boris Johnson in a recent op-ed for the New York Times . “That is the scenario which the agreement has helped to prevent.”
2. Trump’s decision will likely alienate allies
Though brokered by the Obama administration, the Iran deal is very much an international accord, and the implications of Trump’s refusal to waive sanctions on Iran come the May 12th deadline will be wide-ranging. In recent weeks, representatives from the United Kingdom, France and Germany have all visited the U.S. in an effort to convince Trump to preserve the deal, acknowledging its flaws but pleading with the president to consider working to fix or amend the agreement rather than dissolving it entirely. Boris Johnson even attempted to appeal to Trump by saying that a Nobel Peace Prize could be a possibility if the president were able to fix the Iran deal and negotiate something similar with North Korea.
France, Germany, and the UK regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake.
&mdash Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 8, 2018
Though Trump has removed the United States from the deal, allies in Europe have committed to upholding it, and the reinstatement of sanctions may result in tension between the U.S. and those it relies on most. It could also cause a rift with China and Russia, who have also encouraged the United States to remain in the deal, warning of the geopolitical insecurity that would ensue should the deal be scrapped. As was the case when Trump removed the United States from the Paris Accords last summer, scrapping the Iran deal would be a significant blow to its standing as an international leader.
3. The abandonment may hinder an impending deal with North Korea
Reimposing sanctions on Iran would be Trump&rsquos most consequential foreign policy maneuver yet, but a meeting with Kim Jong-un looms large. For Trump to pull out of a deal that by all accounts, Iran is complying with, it could make North Korea wary of entering into a similar deal with the United States.
“North Korea could not claim the U.S. abrogates agreements without cause and would be more likely to negotiate and end to its nuclear program,” wrote the National Coalition to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon, a bipartisan collection of over 100 national security veterans, a in a letter published last month. “Efforts to limit nuclear proliferation would be strengthened.”
Trump has used every superlative in the book in criticizing the Iran deal. If he wants to broker an agreement that would result in the denuclearization of North Korea, he&rsquos going to have to devise something even more advantageous for the U.S. than the Iran deal that North Korea will also agree to. This seems far fetched, to say the least. “The man who wrote The Art of the Deal has staked out a position that the Iran deal was the worst one in history,” Robert S. Litwak, author of Preventing North Korea’s Nuclear Breakout recently explain to the New York Times . “And now he has to show that he can do much better, with a far harder case.”
Trump ran on his dealmaking prowess, but there have been few examples of it through his first 15 months in office. Hopefully, for the sake of humanity, he’s just been saving up all his negotiating acumen for his upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. He’s going to need it.
Along with his Tuesday afternoon announcement that the United States would remove itself from the Iran deal, Trump told the nation that newly minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to North Korea to work on the terms for the president’s upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. “Plans are being made, relationships are building, and hopefully a deal will happen,” Trump said.
VIPS Call on Trump Not to Pull Out of Iran Nuclear Deal
As Donald Trump announces his decision at 2 pm Tuesday on staying in the Iran nuclear deal, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity urge him in this memo exclusive to Consortium News not to base his decision on fabricated evidence.
MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: Being “Played” By Bogus Evidence on Iran
NOTE:The evidence presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30 alleging a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program shows blatant signs of fabrication. That evidence is linked to documents presented by the Bush Administration more a decade earlier as proof of a covert Iran nuclear weapons program. Those documents were clearly fabricated as well.
We sent President Bush a similar warning about bogus intelligence — much of it fabricated by Israel —six weeks before the U.S./UK attack on Iraq, but Bush paid us no heed. This time, we hope you will take note before things spin even further out of control in the Middle East. In short, Israel’s “new” damaging documents on Iran were fabricated by the Israelis themselves.
The Bush administration account of how the documents on Iran got into the hands of the CIA is not true. We can prove that the actual documents originally came not from Iran but from Israel. And the documents were never authenticated by the CIA or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Two former Directors-General of the IAEA, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, have publicly expressed suspicion that the documents were fabricated. And forensic examination of the documents yielded multiple signs that they are fraudulent.
We urge you to insist on an independent inquiry into the actual origins of these documents. We believe that the renewed attention being given to claims that Iran is secretly working to develop nuclear weapons betokens a transparent attempt to stoke hostility toward Iran, with an eye toward helping “justify” pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
We write you in the hope that you will be informed of our views before you decide whether to continue to adhere to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran. We fear that upcoming decisions may be based, in part, on unreliable documents alleging secret nuclear weapons activity in Iran.
On April 30, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu displayed some of those documents in his slide show on what he called the Iranian “atomic archive.” But those are precisely the same fraudulent documents that were acquired by the CIA in 2004.
The official accounts offered by the senior officials of the CIA about the provenance of these documents turned out be complete fabrication. Journalists were told variously that the documents (1) were taken from the laptop computer of an Iranian working in a secret research program (2) were provided by a German spy or (3) simply came from a “longtime contact in Iran.”
However, Karsten Voigt, the former German Foreign Office official in charge of German-North American cooperation, revealed in an on the record interview with historian/journalist Gareth Porter in 2013 that senior officials of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, told Voigt in November 2004 that the documents had been passed to the CIA by a BND source. That source, the senior BND official said, was not considered trustworthy, because he belonged to the Mujahideen-E-Khalq (MEK), the armed Iranian opposition group that was known to have served as a conduit for information that Israeli intelligence (Mossad) wanted to provide to the IAEA without having it attributed to Israel. (In 2012 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removed MEK from the list of terrorist organizations.)
Voigt recalled that the senior BND officials told him of their worry that the Bush administration was going to repeat the error of using fraudulent intelligence, as was the case with the notorious “Curveball”, the Iraqi living in Germany, whom the BND had identified as unreliable. Nonetheless, Curveball’s fictions about mobile biological weapons laboratories in Iraq —with “artists renderings” by the CIA of those phantom labs — had been used by Colin Powell in his error-ridden presentation to the UN on February 5, 2003, leading to war on Iraq.
As for the purported Iranian documents, the CIA never ruled out the possibility that they were fabricated, and the IAEA made no effort to verify their authenticity. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei recalled in his memoirs that he had believed the documents were not really from the Iranian government and that, as he put it, “it made more sense that this information originated in another country.” ElBaradei stated publicly from 2005 through 2009 that the documents had not been authenticated, and he refused to use them as “evidence” of a covert Iranian weapons research program. And ElBaradei’s predecessor as Director-General, Hans Blix, has said he is “somewhat more worried” about the intelligence on the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program than about the dubious intelligence he saw on Iraq, because “there is as much disinformation as there is information.”
Each of the documents mentioned by both Netanyahu and the IAEA reports bears tell-tale signs of fraud. The most widely reported document in the collection is a set of schematic drawings showing efforts to redesign the re-entry vehicle of Iran’s Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear weapon. But the slide that Netanyahu displayed on the screen in his slide show provides visual confirmation of fraud. The drawing shows clearly the “dunce cap” design of the Shahab-3 reentry vehicle. But Iran’s Defense Ministry had already discarded that “dunce cap” reentry vehicle when it began to develop a new improved missile. That redesign began in 2000, according to the Congressional testimony in September 2000 of CIA national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs Robert D. Walpole. But the earliest dates of any of the alleged Iranian nuclear weapon program documents on the project for redesign of the reentry vehicle in the May 2008 IAEA report on the entire collection are from summer 2002 after the “dunce cap” was replaced . The “baby-bottle” shaped reentry vehicle on the redesigned missile was not known to the outside world until the first test of the new missile in mid-2004. So those drawings could not have been done by someone who was actually involved in the redesign of the original Shahab-3 reentry vehicle it was clearly the work of a foreign intelligence agency seeking to incriminate Iran, but slipping up on one important detail and thus betraying its fraudulent character.
The second document from that same collection turned over to the IAEA that has been widely reported is the so-called “green salt project” — a plan for a bench-scale system of uranium conversion for enrichment given the code name “Project 5.13” and part of a larger “Project 5”. Other documents that had been provided by the MEK showed that “Project 5” also included a sub-project involving ore processing at a mine designated “Project 5.15,” according to a briefing by IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen in February 2008.
But when Iran turned over detailed documents to the IAEA in response to its questions about Project 5.15 in 2008, the IAEA learned the truth: there had been a real ore processing project called Project 5.15, but it was a civilian project of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran – not part of a covert nuclear weapons program—and the decision to create Project 5.15 had been made on August 25, 1999—more than two years before the initial date of the project found in the collection of supposedly secret nuclear weapons research documents. That fact gives away the ruse surrounding the numbering system of “Project 5″ adopted by intelligence specialists who had fabricated the document.
A third document that purportedly shows Iranian nuclear weapons research is about what Netanyahu called “Multi-Point Initiation in hemispheric geometry” and the IAEA called “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.” Significantly, that document was not part of the original collection that the CIA had passed to the IAEA, but had been given to the IAEA years later, and officials from the IAEA, Europe and the United States refused to reveal which member country had provided the document. Former Director-General ElBaradei revealed in his memoirs, however, that Israel had passed a series of documents to the IAEA in 2008-09, in an effort to make the case that Iran had continued its nuclear weapons experiments until “at least 2007.”
The summary picture we offer above includes unusually clear evidence of the fraudulent nature of the documents that are advertised as hard evidence of Iran’s determination to obtain nuclear weapons. One remaining question is cui bono ? — who stands to benefit from this kind of “evidence.” The state that had the most to gain from the fabrication of such documents was obviously Israel.
Completely absent from the usual discussion of this general problem is the reality that Israel already has a secret nuclear arsenal of more than a hundred nuclear weapons. To the extent Israel’s formidable deterrent is more widely understood, arguments that Israel genuinely fears an Iranian nuclear threat any time soon lose much of their power. Only an extreme few suggest that Iran’s leaders are bent on risking national suicide. What the Israelis are after is regime change in Tehran. And they have powerful allies with similar aims.
We therefore urge you, Mr. President, not to go along with these plans or to decide to pull the U.S. out of the six-nation nuclear deal with Iran based on fraudulent evidence.
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Richard H. Black , Senator of Virginia, 13th District Colonel US Army (ret.) Former Chief, Criminal Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Pentagon (associate VIPS)
Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and Division Director, State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Kathleen Christison, Senior Analyst on Middle East, CIA (ret.)
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
Michael S. Kearns, Captain,Wing Commander, RAAF (ret.) Intelligence Officer & ex-Master SERE Instructor
John Kiriakou, former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
David MacMichael, Ph.D., former senior estimates officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst CIA Presidential briefer (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council & CIA political analyst (ret.)
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
Gareth Porter, author/journalist (associate VIPS)
Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)
Ann Wright, Colonel, US Army (ret.) also Foreign Service Officer who resigned in opposition to the US war on Iraq
This Memorandum was drafted by VIPS Associate Gareth Porter, author of “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” 2014
Iranian Nuclear Decision-Making
The Islamic Republic’s Decision-Making Process
Tehran’s security policies are the result of intricate bargaining games and the sum of the outputs of a complex web of institutions within the political and security establishments. This web is comprised of the supreme leader’s office the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches several intelligence organizations and the armed forces—both the IRGC and Artesh—and streamlined through the Supreme National Security Council. In terms of order of importance, the supreme leader’s office is followed by the executive branch (including the Foreign Ministry and the civilian side of intelligence) and the IRGC, with the legislative branch and judiciary playing relatively minor roles. Ultimately, these processes lead to system-wide decisions on the trajectory of the country’s nuclear program and the nature and scope of it. This is not to say that consensus is necessary for more minor decisions, particularly those taken in the technical and operational realms and which are less significant in their strategic implications. Some decisions appear to be made when buy-in from smaller, immediately relevant entities is secured. However, major steps taken on the contours of Iran’s nuclear program are the result of system-wide decisions.
In other words, decisions made to accelerate certain nuclear activities and the degree of compliance with international obligations are not the result of hard-liners’ attempts to undermine or humiliate moderates as some observers claim during key junctures but are rather system-wide outputs. This does not imply that Iranian decision-making is monolithic or even purely rational. Infighting and debates can be robust despite the limits imposed by the system. For example, Iran’s very adherence to the NPT has been a subject of debate within the system, as have questions pertaining to the country’s cooperation with the IAEA, the need for domestic enrichment and even nuclear power, and the timing and scope of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. But should Iran choose to withdraw from the NPT, kick out international inspectors and dial down its cooperation with the IAEA, or accept to extend the sunsets on its enrichment program in future negotiations with the United States, it would do so after building consensus and as a unitary state. This decision-making is not always purely rational or driven by national interests. In fact, many of Iran’s decisions are driven by its perceptions of its historical experiences and feelings associated with them.
That Iran’s security output is defined by the internal push and pull between different organizations and power centers is critical. Each of these institutions has its own subculture, defined as “a subsection of the broader strategic community with reasonably distinct beliefs and attitudes on strategic issues, with distinct and historically traceable analytical traditions.” In Iran, some of these organizations predate the Islamic Republic and go back decades or even centuries others were created during or after the revolution. As a result of the redundancies in Iran’s power structure, different organizations with similar or overlapping mandates can experience tensions and compete for resources and influence. This colors their deliberations internally and engagement with other organizations. Moreover, the history and culture of each organization come into play in these bargaining games and feed into the contours of the country’s policies. For example, while the Artesh holds its roots in Imperial Iran, the IRGC was a bottom-up creation by the revolutionaries. The Artesh was seen as beholden to the nation and not the nascent regime, as it demonstrated during the revolution that it “loath[ed] confront[ing] the Iranian people,” even after its leadership handed the Artesh to the revolutionaries.
As a result, these two arms of Iran’s forces have distinct subcultures, which, in turn, shape their beliefs and attitudes on security issues. And while most of Iran’s security apparatuses were created after the revolution, many were established on the ashes of the security organizations of the prerevolution era. For instance, Iran created the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in 1983. But the ministry succeeded the SAVAK. The revolutionaries dismantled the SAVAK upon seizing power. But before long, they realized that governing a country and tackling a foreign adversary on the battlefield and domestic threats on the streets of various cities required a capable intelligence agency. As a result, they first created ad hoc committees (known as komīteh, in Persian) tasked with intelligence and counterintelligence, before establishing MOIS (while developing parallel and redundant organizations tasked with intelligence and counterintelligence, including the IRGC-intelligence unit and the law enforcement or NAJA’s intelligence) and building capacity by granting SAVAK operatives immunity to help ensure a smooth transition.
This complex web of organizations engages in a messy bargaining process, some of which takes place in the public sphere but much of which remains hidden from external observers. The Islamic Republic’s national security decisions result from this process. Each of these organizations is, in turn, divided into a number of different entities. As a result, far from a top-down exercise by a single individual, Iran’s decision-making process is, in fact, the outcome of intense feedback loops within and between different power centers. That said, the supreme leader no doubt plays a critical role in framing the national security discourse and forming the framework within which policies are devised and implemented. Hence, the supreme leader’s veto power grants him the ability to remove any item he does not wish to see executed from the deliberations agenda—although Khamenei has revealed himself to be reluctant to use his veto power unless he seemingly viewed the matter at hand as absolutely critical, an approach that his successor may or may not adopt.
Understanding this decision-making process is important for several reasons. Practical considerations make it critical to understand how Iran’s policy outputs are shaped in order to identify pressure points in future efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program in the context of the country dialing down its JCPOA implementation or perhaps even leaving the agreement or the NPT. Moreover, pinpointing the players involved in establishing security policies is key to comprehending what concepts and considerations shape decision makers’ calculations. Scholars, policy circles, and media outlets have attempted to shed light on the Iranian political system for decades. And during each major Iranian political event, including presidential and parliamentary elections, charts of the country’s political system emerge again.
In the context of security decision-making, the supreme leader’s role is often to determine the framework within which these organizations can operate and the bottom lines, redlines, and acceptable outcomes. This is not a one-sided process, and in establishing these redlines and bottom lines, the supreme leader also consults other power centers. The supreme leader provides the green light to pursue a course of action and establishes a framework within which policymaking takes place. The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC)—composed of representatives from all key power centers within the regime and tasked with formulating Iran’s strategic interests to protect national security—turns this framework into an “actionable” policy plan.
Figure 2: Iran nuclear decision-making process and power centers
*Note: Qalibaf succeeded Ali Larijani as Majles speaker following the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Source: Author’s compilation
This policy is then implemented by the executive branch, the president and his cabinet. The IRGC often follows the supreme leader, and in certain specific areas, along with the executive branch, it turns this policy into strategy and extricates operational and tactical level actionables from it. The legislative branch or the Majles, whose powers are fairly limited, is meant to check the executive branch. Parliamentarians seek to hold the executive branch accountable. The parliament is also responsible for turning specific policies into laws, whose legality and compatibility with the constitution must be assessed by the Guardian Council. The council is charged with assessing the policies presented by the executive branch and laws drafted by the legislator against the regime’s fundamental beliefs and redlines.
Several key power centers play an important role in the Iranian nuclear decision-making process. Israeli intelligence assessments indicate a degree of streamlining in Iran’s decision-making process, which included the establishment of the Supreme Council for Advanced Technologies in 1998. The council included then President Mohammad Khatami, then SNSC secretary Rouhani, then Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani, and then AEOI head Reza Aghazadeh. According to documents released by Israeli intelligence, Aghazadeh signed an agreement with Shamkhani, which provided for coordination and information sharing between the AEOI and the Ministry of Defense (and the president’s office), as well as the stipulation of specific actions to be undertaken in enrichment. This included a provision granting the Ministry of Defense the authority to enrich uranium from 3 percent to above 90 percent. Beyond these two organizations, a number of other organizations are outlined in the Iranian documents retrieved by the Israelis. “The Group of Eight,” as Iranian documents refer to them, consists of active and passive members. The former comprises the IRGC-Quds Force, IRGC Air Force, and Iranian law enforcement or Niro-ye Entezami-e Jomhoori-e Eslami-e Iran (NAJA). The passive members include the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the intelligence unit, the judiciary, and customs.
Figure 3: Makeup of “Group of Eight”
The Decision-Making Process and Nuclear Policy
Nuclear Talks and the JCPOA
Given their importance and sensitive nature, the 2012–15 nuclear negotiations leading to the JCPOA illustrate this map perfectly. The “Iran talks,” as they were known, were shaped by internal bargaining at home as much as they were by the negotiations taking place around the table with the P5+1. Khamenei provided the green light for the nuclear talks to commence and set the framework within which various organizations could operate. This framework was composed of a number of loose “redlines,” which determined Iran’s bottom lines, while granting the negotiators some room to maneuver and sell the deal domestically, including to the hardliners. There were broadly two sets of redlines guiding the nuclear negotiations. First, Iran returned to the negotiating table with a set of assumptions about the future of its nuclear program, sanctions relief, and other items its counterparts could introduce in the talks, including the country’s missile activities. Second, a number of redlines were later added to these in an ad hoc manner to tackle new issues emerging in the negotiations.
Both sets of redlines appear to have been formulated through a feedback loop created between key power centers involved in the nuclear program—including in consultation with the AEOI, Ministry of Defense, MOIS, key IRGC affiliates, and the SNSC. There is limited visibility over how these redlines were formed. The first set of redlines existed prior to the beginning of the nuclear negotiations. This set of redlines was created to meet both Iran’s “practical needs” in its overt nuclear energy program and what the Group of Eight likely identified as the needs for the covert weapons-related activities should they be continued. They included
- a narrow mandate focused exclusively on the nuclear issue (not missile or regional activities)
- preserving the Iranian nuclear program, including research and development (R&D) and the enrichment program
- keeping key facilities, particularly Fordow, open and functioning.
All in all, Khamenei issued 11 redlines for the nuclear talks at the outset. However, some were clearly symbolic and were disregarded within weeks of the negotiations resuming. Others were actual bottom lines that Iranian negotiators could not compromise. For example, although Khamenei had ordered broadly that the Iranian delegation “should not accept any impositions from the other side,” Tehran did make a number of concessions by accepting limits on its enrichment program and R&D, as well as enhanced verification and monitoring. Iranian negotiators were able to sell the deal at home as meeting these requirements, by noting that the country had not accepted any limitations that would be considered impositions and that the deal was entirely reciprocal and voluntary.
Other redlines were overcome thanks to creative solutions that would allow the United States and its partners to have confidence that the proliferation risks posed by Iranian activities were limited while allowing Tehran to sell them using the framework established by Khamenei. For instance, Fordow remained open, meeting Khamenei’s bottom line, but it was repurposed to become an R&D site, meeting the United States and its partners’ proliferation concerns. In some cases, the Iranian side did not have a clear and coherent idea of its wishes and redlines. That was notably the case in the context of sanctions relief, which by some Iranian officials’ own admission in interviews was an area in which the delegation was not proficient.
In the case of the second set of redlines, some instances appeared to be discussed in public and created as the negotiations progressed—that was the case when Iranian negotiators and their American counterparts were reportedly debating the possibility of the emerging agreement granting IAEA inspectors access to military facilities and facilitating interviews with Iranian nuclear scientists. Khamenei appeared in public rejecting both notions, arguing that this would be a breach of national sovereignty, jeopardize national defense secrets, and put at risk Iranian scientists (some of whom had been assassinated in years prior). These redlines seemed to be formulated as exigencies emerged during the negotiations.
The SNSC turned this framework into an “actionable” policy plan, which was executed by the president and his Foreign Ministry, as well as the AEOI. The IRGC followed Khamenei’s lead and cautiously endorsed the nuclear talks. At the same time, in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, the IRGC executed policies to facilitate the nuclear talks and, later, implement the JCPOA—for example, by ensuring the quick release of the US sailors whose ships had crossed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf close to an IRGC base on Farsi Island in January 2016.
However, while it was helping the talks on some level, the IRGC also played a counterproductive role on other fronts. For example, the Guards put pressure on the government by arresting dual nationals, particularly US citizens, to make sure the talks did not lead to a broader and more fundamental normalization with America. The Majles, for its part, became a platform where the legislative and executive branches debated the policies despite playing a fairly minor role, forcing the president and the Foreign Ministry to be accountable by presenting quarterly reports on the JCPOA’s implementation. The Iran talks were driven and shaped by several key tenets of Iranian strategic culture.
First, from Iran’s perspective, returning to the negotiating table was not just an economic matter it was also a national security priority. As Rouhani and others would often argue during the talks and, later, to defend their legacy even after Trump’s withdrawal from it and in light of the maximum pressure campaign, Iran had to choose between negotiating and war. In that sense, Tehran agreed to return to the table to “deter” the adversary—the United States and Israel, which were contemplating military action to curtail Iran’s nuclear program shortly before the talks started in 2012. Second, Iran also initiated the diplomatic process due to the belief that political and economic isolation had limited the country’s ability to hold what Iranians viewed as its rightful place in the world. Third, the country’s belief that it must be a force to be reckoned with, combined with its conviction that it should be able to stand on its own two feet and be self-reliant in key areas, drew the contours of the nuclear talks. Lastly, the notion that Iran could not trust foreign powers was a powerful force during the process.
As noted above, Khamenei captured these tenets of Iranian thinking and turned them into redlines for the negotiators, providing the framework for the talks. The SNSC oversaw the process and ensured that the negotiators were operating within the framework set by Khamenei. The IRGC worked in tandem with the supreme leader’s office to ensure the formal negotiations remained contained and did not overreach and spill into other areas—even though, on the sidelines, the negotiators did frequently cover regional developments and the fate of the hostages held in Iran. The Majles, too, sought to check the president and his cabinet and put pressure on the executive. It is critical to note that while this description may indicate a “whole of government approach,” as witnessed in the United States, the reality of Iranian decision-making can be messier.
As then Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiator Majid Ravanchi put it during the final stretch of the nuclear talks, “The agreement has to be submitted to the Majles by the Foreign Ministry … we have to work within the framework set up by the Majles. The Majles is very active on this. As the government, we have to listen to the Majles, and they give us the framework to operate within.” Although Ravanchi was likely exaggerating the extent of the Majles’ authority to shape the course of events for domestic and external consumption, the Majles did play a role in checking the executive—albeit often more symbolically so. Taking all these checks into consideration, the Foreign Ministry, assisted by the AEOI, negotiated and crafted the nuclear deal with the P5+1, before taking each component of the emerging deal back to Tehran and each of these centers of power and negotiating them there. The negotiators would then return to New York, Lausanne, Geneva, or Vienna, and present the output to their counterparts and repeat the process.
Following President Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, many speculated that Tehran, too, would leave the deal. However, the day after the US decision became public, Khamenei indicated otherwise: Iran would be preparing itself for the collapse of the agreement, but it would not withdraw from it. Instead, Tehran would work with the Europeans (as well as China and Russia) to find a way forward on sustaining the JCPOA without the United States. Having laid out the framework within which the country would execute its post-US JCPOA withdrawal nuclear policy, Khamenei instructed the AEOI to determine what steps to take to prepare for a potential collapse of the deal. The AEOI would implement these steps. In consultation with the SNSC, the AEOI identified these steps and began to lay out the groundwork for their execution.
On May 8, 2019—which marked the anniversary of the US withdrawal from the deal, and responding to the administration’s maximum pressure campaign, whose most recent target was the IRGC with its designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)—Rouhani made some public remarks, explaining Iran’s next steps with regard to the JCPOA. He noted that the era of “strategic patience,” in which Iran implemented the JCPOA and pursued negotiations with Europe, was over. The remarks introduced a series of incremental and largely reversible steps, designed to force the United States into dialing down pressure on Iran and to compel Europe to step up its efforts to shield Iran from US sanctions. This decision was made in the SNSC and as part of the broader Iranian strategy to counter and undermine the US maximum pressure campaign—which included military efforts in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, as well as the threat of action by proxies in Iraq. And Iran’s measures were proposed by the AEOI, approved by the SNSC, and implemented by the AEOI. Now, with Iran once again under yet more pressure, whether or not the country further dials down its implementation of the JCPOA will be determined in a similar fashion.
Figure 4: Key players in Iran’s nuclear program
Source: Author’s compilation
Solving the Iranian dilemma
As it mulls the future of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the U.S. finds itself at odds with Europe on policies toward the Islamic Republic. The existence of conflicting camps amongst the parties to the nuclear agreement means that, whether the accord is “fixed or nixed,” America needs to bolster its alliances outside the P5+1— and the solution can come through the often-overlooked Eurasian nation of Azerbaijan.
Long-held concerns over the nuclear deal came to the fore a mere month ago when an Iranian drone violated Israeli airspace near the Syrian border. Israel intercepted the drone, while Syria shot down an Israeli F-16. The clashes are a direct consequence of the nuclear deal’s enabling of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, to grow its military presence in war-torn Syria.
The White House responded to the episode by expressing its support for Israel, “to defend itself from the Iranian-backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria.” It was the latest example of the Trump administration’s stern rhetoric on Iran. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, President Trump stated that the U.S. is calling on fellow world powers to “confront Iran’s support for terrorists and block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.”
Earlier in January, Mr. Trump announced his plan to “fix” the nuclear deal, including a 120-day deadline for America and the deal’s European partners to impose stricter terms on the Iranians. If Mr. Trump cannot bring Europe to his side on the nuclear issue, the U.S. may pull out of the agreement brokered by the Obama administration.
But the president needs more than tough talk on Iran — he needs an action plan. America must be prepared for prolonged diplomatic tension with Europe over the Iran deal, meaning the U.S. should bolster its strategic alliances elsewhere.
The ally that America needs is Azerbaijan, which shares a southern border with Iran. A stronger U.S.-Azerbaijan alliance can help address the challenges ran poses outside its nuclear quest. These range from supporting terrorism, exporting sectarian violence and promoting radicalism. With some 30 million ethnic Azeris, Iran’s largest non-Persian group, the Shia-majority-Azerbaijan is better positioned than any other potential ally to support the U.S.
Consider also Azerbaijan’s northern neighbor, Russia. The Russians are enthusiastic backers of the Iran deal and work closely with Tehran to support President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war. This alliance extends to Russia’s vassal, Armenia, a country filled with Russian military bases and that coordinates its foreign policy with the Kremlin.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has said his country sees “great potential in becoming a transit route towards Iran and the Persian Gulf” for Russia. This, at the heart of an Iranian-Russian-Armenian nexus that will continue to bolster Tehran. Even if Congress reinstates sanctions removed by the nuclear deal, Iran will not lose economic leverage with partners like Russia and Armenia.
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, is in a decades-long conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-occupied region that U.N. resolutions affirm as Azerbaijani territory. Peculiarly, this conflict is exacerbated by a Congress that all too often caters to the interests of Armenian Americans, rather than serving the national interests of the U.S.
Most recently, in an ironic twist to the Russia influence scandals, Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, introduced H.Res.697, which supports Russia and Iran-backed separatists through “visits and communication between the United States and the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) at all levels of civil society and government.” This extraordinarily disregards the State Department’s vow that America supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
Mr. Pallone’s measure treats the lawless territory of Nagorno-Karabakh as a legitimate “republic.” Further, the resolution ignores the State Department’s advisory recommending that U.S. citizens avoid traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh due to the ongoing armed conflict there.
Rather than alienating Azerbaijan and jeopardizing American interests through pro-Armenian legislation, the U.S. needs to give Baku the treatment it deserves: As a key ally amid the Iran nuclear deal saga.
Azerbaijan is on the verge of significantly enhancing its standing on the global stage thanks to its leading role in the Southern Gas Corridor, which will span nearly 2,200 miles across seven countries and three pipelines — bypassing Iran, Armenia and Russia.
Baku is a promising economic and diplomatic partner in Iran’s neighborhood. Armenia shares a physical border with Iran, but is close to Tehran in spirit for the wrong reason — as a member of the disturbing triumvirate with Russia and Iran that threatens American interests. While Armenia’s alliances perpetuate the nuclear deal conundrum, Azerbaijan can help the U.S. solve it.
President Trump needs more than a bold attitude to outfox Russia and Western Europe in the process of tackling the Iranian nuclear issue. He should follow Israel’s example and work with allies that serve key strategic objectives, and he should start by cultivating warmer ties with Azerbaijan.
Trump strikes blow against Iran nuclear deal in major shift in US policy
Washington: US President Donald Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal in a major reversal of US policy.
Trump made the announcement in a speech that detailed a more confrontational approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for extremist groups in the Middle East.
“Today I am announcing our strategy along with several major steps we’re taking to confront the Iranian regime’s hostile actions and to ensure that Iran never — and I mean never — acquires a nuclear weapon,” Trump said.
While Trump did not pull the United States out of the agreement, aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, he gave the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.
That would increase tension with Iran as well as put Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord such as Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.
Trump ordered tougher sanctions on Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps and on its ballistic missile program.
Trump said the agreement, which defenders say was only ever meant to curtail Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, had failed to address Iranian subversion in its region and its illegal missile program.
UAE supports new US strategy
The UAE has announced its full support to the US President Donald Trump’s strategy of dealing with Iran’s policies that undermine stability and security, reports WAM.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation stressed that the Iranian regime, through its policies, is seeking to sow the seeds of chaos and instability in the region, adding “The nuclear agreement with Iran has given it the chance to correct its policies and responsibly deal with the international community however, the Iranian government took advantage of this agreement to support its expansionist and irresponsible policy”.
The statement reiterated that the US new strategy comes as part of necessary steps to confront Iran's negative and unacceptable behavior in all its forms, including its missile program, which poses a real threat to the regional security and stability. It also comes to defy its support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the Houthis and adoption of cyber-attacks as well as interference in the internal affairs of its neighbours.
The US president said he supports efforts in Congress to work on new measures to address these threats without immediately torpedoing the broader deal.
"However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated," Trump said, in a televised address from the Diplomatic Room of the White House.
"It is under continuous review and our participation can be cancelled by me as president at any time," he warned.
Simultaneously, the US Treasury said it had taken action against the Revolutionary Guards under a 2001 executive order to hit sources of terror funding and added four companies that allegedly support the group to its sanctions list.
'The worst deal'
Trump had repeatedly pledged to overturn one of his predecessor Barack Obama's crowning foreign policy achievements, deriding it as "the worst deal" and one agreed to out of "weakness".
The agreement stalled Iran's nuclear program and marginally thawed relations between Iran and what Tehran dubs the "Great Satan", but opponents, and even some supporters, say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence across the Middle East.
But since coming to office, Trump has faced intense lobbying from international allies and much of his own national security team, who argue the agreement should remain in place.
US concerns about the Guards could also weaken the deal. Trump stopped short of designating the powerful military faction a global terror organisation, as some hawks demanded, but his announcement of targeted sanctions is still likely to trigger an angry Iranian response.